Monday, February 17, 2014

Did John Norman Collins Work Alone?

Boarding house where Collins, Davis, and Manuel lived.
A nagging question people familiar with the Washtenaw County serial killings ask is, "Did John Norman Collins have any accomplices? And if so, are they still at large in the area?"

It is known that Collins was not alone when he picked up the second victim, Joan Schell, on the evening of June 30th, 1968. She was hitchhiking to Ann Arbor from McKenny Union on Eastern Michigan University's campus in Ypsilanti.

Miss Schell was picked up by three young men in a red vehicle with a black convertible top thought to be a Chevy. Along with Collins, who was wearing a green EMU tee-shirt, was Arnold Davis, a close friend, and an unidentified third person who the other men refused or were unable to identify.

John Norman Collins and Arnie Davis - EMU Ski Club - 1967.

Soon, Collins offered Joan a ride to Ann Arbor in his car, and the two other guys were sent on their way. This information was discovered in a police interrogation of Arnie Davis after Collins was arrested for the murder of Karen Sue Beineman a year later.

Arnie, who lived in a second floor room across the landing from John Norman Collins, said that in the early morning hours of July 1st, Collins returned to the house with Joan's red shoulder bag. Arnie asked him about it and he replied, "She ran from my car and left her purse behind." 

Davis reported that Collins rifled through her wallet and examined her driver's license and exclaimed, "The bitch lied to me. She told me she was married."

Joan Schell's nude body was found a week later on the outskirts of Ann Arbor. At the very least, Arnie Davis had information which could have prevented the slayings of five other women if only he had come forward with what he knew. Strictly speaking, Arnie Davis was not legally obligated to contact the police, but he was morally obligated, and he made the conscious decision to conceal what he knew.

Of the seven victims that comprise the cases against Collins, it is certain that other people knew or suspected Collins early on. But either out of misplaced loyalty, fear of Collins, or out of their own complicity on some level, several key players remain silent. 

Fearing an arrest on burglary charges and other unspecified charges against him, Arnie Davis was given full immunity by the Collins' prosecutors on the condition that he testify against his friend in open court. With great reluctance, Davis testified in the Karen Sue Beineman case but was prevented from making any statements regarding any of the other cases, lest there be a mistrial called. He was extensively interviewed by police about the Joan Schell case also.


***


In the most obscure of the Collins' cases, there was undoubtedly some collusion by another of Collins' housemates, one Andrew Manuel, a petty career criminal from Salinas, California. He came to Michigan to work in an auto plant but eventually lost his job. He found another factory job at Motor Wheel Corporation making wheel housing components. That's where he met John Norman Collins.

Andy was two years older than Collins and worked the night shift full time. Collins went to school during the day and worked a four hour part time night shift. The young men worked together and became friends. 

Despite being married and renting an apartment with his wife on Ypsilanti's east side, Andy Manuel also rented a room at the Emmet St. boarding house along with Arnie Davis and Collins. The young men became friends and soon formed a burglary crew.

In June of 1969, Collins and Manuel decided to leave Ypsilanti for about a month. Between March and June, four local women were slain and deposited around Washtenaw County and every policeman available was working the case. 

These two young men also had been busy breaking into homes, burglarizing cars, and stealing anything of value they could carry off and fence later. They left town hoping for the local heat to die down.

Collins and Manuel went to Hendrickson's Trailer Sales and Rentals on East Michigan Ave. They placed a $25 cash deposit down for the rental of a seventeen foot long house trailer. The following day, they paid for the rest of the rental with a stolen check and false ID. Collins told the rental people they were going fishing in Canada for a week. After the trailer was hitched to Collins' Oldsmobile Cutlass, they headed west on Interstate-94 for California.


Andy Manuel was from Salinas, California, and once they arrived there, they parked the trailer behind his grandparents' house. Within a week, Roxie Ann Phillips from Milwaulkie, Oregon, was visiting family friends and crossed Collins' path. She went missing on June 30th, 1969, and her nude body was found two weeks later on July 13 at the bottom of Pescadero Canyon, north of Carmel Valley in Monterey County.

Salinas police investigators discovered that on July 3rd, 1969, Collins went to the Tolan-Cadillac-Oldsmobile dealership to have repairs made on his car and to have a trailer hitch removed. Then the pair returned unexpectedly early to Ypsilanti. 

When the Salinas Police discovered the trailer abandoned behind Manuel's grandparents' home, the forensic crime lab checked it out from top to bottom. They discovered that the trailer had been wiped clean inside and out. Not a single fingerprint could be found. That in itself pointed the finger of suspicion at the two absent men.

I find it unbelievable that Manuel did not know that Collins had killed Roxie Ann Phillips. Whether Andy had anything to do with Roxie's murder or not is unknown. The evidence suggests that Collins acted alone, but where was Manuel at the time? Surely, he helped Collins wipe the trailer clean of fingerprints and any other collateral evidence. 

I wonder what their conversation was about on their way back to Michigan. Shortly after they returned to their boarding house, Manuel gathered up his belongings and left the state again unannounced. He had to know what had happened in California and wanted to distance himself from Collins and the law.

Andrew Manuel in FBI custody.
After a nationwide manhunt, the FBI arrested Andrew Manuel in Phoenix, Arizona. He was hiding out at his sister-in-law's house. At the very least, Andrew Manuel was an accessory after the fact and withheld information from the police investigators. But when he was interrogated by the police and prosecutors, he passed several polygraph (lie detector) tests. Manuel was given a clean bill of health from the authorities.

Andrew Manuel had been given a deal. Prosecutor Booker T. Williams went out on a limb for him. Williams said at the close of Manuel's fraud case for stealing the trailer, that Mr. Manuel had no involvement in any of the murders. He was given a $100 fine and one year's probation. 

As soon as he could, Manuel violated his probation and fled again but was soon captured to serve out his sentence in the Washtenaw County Jail. When he was called to testify in the Karen Sue Beineman case, Andy played the village idiot and didn't cooperate with the prosecution in any significant way.


***

Whether either of these guys was directly involved with any of the Washtenaw County murders hasn't been firmly established. It is known that Arnie Davis and Andrew Manuel were involved with Collins in other illegal activities, and they prowled the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti streets together.


The theory that Collins did not always act alone is persistent. Several people have come forward recently saying that they escaped the clutches of Collins and Manuel and lived to tell their stories. Sometimes, a simple ruse was all that was needed to lure a person in, but other people report struggling to escape from them.

As soon as they could after the Collins trial, Arnie Davis and Andy Manuel left Michigan. These men now live on opposite ends of the country. It should also be noted that after the arrest of John Norman Collins, the two year nightmare of sex-slayings of young women in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor ended. But worries that Collins did not act alone and that his accomplices are still lurking in the area are persistent concerns held by many people today.